My new book Half Past takes place in two main locations: a small town in rural Iowa and the coast of Big Sur.
I didn’t have to do any research on the first location. My family is from a tiny farming community in southern Minnesota. I only had to look up a couple of details to get that part right. My biggest disappointment was discovering that Red Owl grocery stores had gown out of business. Our local Red Owl played a big part in my childhood summers. I can still smell the maple doughnuts, and my grandma used to buy me these (now horrifying) drinks. Does this picture trigger nostalgia for anyone else?
But California was a whole other story. I’ve been to developed parts of California (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco) and even a few secluded beaches (Half Moon Bay), but I’d never been anywhere wild. I knew the wild coasts of California were a whole other world, so I decided to do something I’ve always dreamed of. I decided to rent a cabin and explore someplace new all by myself. After all, this is my decade of trying new things.
Big Sur was everything I wanted. As described in the book, it really was a sudden shift from expensive seaside communities to a completely untamed land. It was peaceful and beautiful and picture-perfect, but I had a deep sense of my own frailty while there. Humans haven’t conquered this place. We’ve barely managed to develop small strips of it.
The bed and breakfast I described in the book doesn’t exist (nor do the people who lived there in the 70’s) but the cabin is as real as I could make it. I stayed at a beautiful roadside resort called Glen Oaks. I can’t recommend it enough. Despite the other nearby cabins and rooms, I felt utterly alone in the best way as I sat next to my fire for hours, writing and drinking wine.
I spent five days in Big Sur, exploring redwood forests and rocky coasts. I waded into the cold water on a deserted beach and hiked up a hillside stream to see abandoned lime kilns. I slipped through a long tunnel through the cliffs to emerge directly above the surf where ships used to load freight. I stared into that deep water for nearly an hour.
Everything you’ve heard about the highway is true. Gorgeous and absolutely terrifying. And when I was alone in the trees, I felt truly alone, strong and centered and vulnerable.
I loved every minute of my research in Big Sur. I hope you enjoy the results in Half Past!
p.s. Since my visit, Big Sur has suffered flooding and mudslides that cut off huge parts of the coast. Though most areas are now reachable, the people who live and work there have suffered tremendously. To find out how to help, please visit Big Sur Relief Fund.